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Looking Back To Where We'd Started

Skiing Chickadee Valley in Kootenay National Park

Cross-country skiing (or snowshoeing) up Chickadee Valley in Kootenay National Park has got to be one of the prettiest outings you can do within a few hours drive of Calgary.

While not everyone is comfortable skiing a trail like the one to Chickadee Valley, I can assure you that it’s not difficult route-finding and unless there’s been a big dump of fresh snow there should be lots of tracks to follow. Just don’t veer into any avalanche terrain – which is easy if you stick with the valley.

Finding the trail to Chickadee Valley

Finding the unmarked trailhead is easy. First park at the well-marked Great Divide parking lot on the south side of Highway 93. It’s about 10 kilometres southwest of Castle Junction. On the east side of the divide you’re in Alberta, and on the west side, British Columbia.

The ski trail starts at the Continental Divide on Highway 93
The Chickadee Valley ski trail starts at the Continental Divide on Highway 93

After parking, walk across the highway from the westerly end of the parking lot. You’ll have to carry your skis across – don’t linger as trucks roar through here. Navigating the giant snowbanks to get to the highway may be the crux of your journey!

Put your skis on right beside the highway and head into the woods. There should be some tracks to follow but nothing is signed. As we were there early after a fresh snowfall, we wrongly assumed we should be following the tracks that lead to the open area pictured below. Instead we came across a large group learning about avalanche safety.

We backtracked five minutes and found faint tracks – heading off to the right, just 75 metres from the highway.

We started off on the wrong trail - following people taking an avalanche course; at least the view was good
We started off on the wrong trail – following people taking an avalanche course; at least the view was good
To get to Chickadee Valley look for a fork to the right - about 75 m from the highway
Look for a fork to the right – about 75 m from the highway

Finding your way up Chickadee Valley

Continue to look for tracks and follow the creek, climbing at a moderate rate for the better part of a kilometre. Early in the season be careful with any stream crossings as there is open water about. Views are first rate for most of the trip.

Within minutes of finding the right trail, this was the scenery
Within minutes of finding the right trail, this was the scenery

Once at the top of the stream bed the trail levels out and stays that way for the next four kilometres.

We ended up following tracks through the trees. At times the trail was quite narrow and I found myself asking John – are you sure we’re going the right way? 

If we had stayed left at an obvious intersection, we could have made a beeline for the end of the valley. We also would have been further to the west of the slide path of any potential avalanches. Avalanche risk was low when we were there, but after a big snowfall I’d definitely keep left. The views are better too.

Views are terrific for most of the 5 kilometres
Views are terrific for most of the 5 kilometres
Skiing Chickadee Valley in Kootenay National Park
Glorious views looking up Chickadee Valley
In Chickadee Valley there was lots of open water
There was lots of open water along the length of the Chickadee Valley
Looking back to where we'd started
Looking back to where we’d started
We found a wiggly trail in Chickadee Valley through the trees
We found a wiggly trail through the trees

When we reached the meadow in the vicinity of the photo pictured below, we decided to have lunch and retrace our steps. But another time I’d consider continuing through the trees up into the high alpine. We met our first skier of the day who described the route – and it all sounds very doable.

He says it’s easy to avoid avalanche terrain but he did recommend putting on skins for the climbing. The views from above treeline would be outstanding.

We turned around just up from here
We turned around just up from here
Gorgeous mountain scenery - and the lower reaches can be accessed on skis
Gorgeous mountain scenery – and the lower reaches can be accessed on skis
Beautiful mountains in all directions in Chickadee Valley
Beautiful mountains in all directions

We retraced our steps and took the more direct route down. In less than an hour, we were back at the car. The last kilometre was a lot of fun to ski, but this part of the trail with narrow twists and turns wouldn’t be for everyone.

Whymper Mountain perhaps? (Please correct if wrong)
Whymper Mountain perhaps? (Please correct if wrong)
Stay clear of the avalanche path - an easy thing to do
Stay clear of the avalanche path – an easy thing to do
Corduroy clouds followed us from Kootenay National Park all the way to Calgary
Corduroy clouds followed us from Kootenay National Parkall the way to Calgary

Over the course of the three to four hours we were in the Chickadee Valley, we met one other skier and four snowshoers. It was a weekend with perfect snow and weather conditions, so I was surprised to see so few people.

One of the prettiest places in the Rockies in winter

Skiing up Chickadee Valley is a visual treat. It’s one of the prettiest winter outings I’ve done in the Rockies since arriving in Calgary over 8 years ago.

If the thought of skiing an unmarked trail scares you, try the marked trail to Boom Lake in Banff National Park. The signed trailhead for it is just a few minutes away on the north side of the highway near Vermillion Pass. If you drove in from Calgary you would have passed it on route to this trailhead.

The scene before the storm hits on Boom Lake
The scene before the storm hits on Boom Lake

There are washrooms at the parking lot but no other services so plan to be self-reliant. Cell phone coverage is spotty. The nearest place for food/meals is just six minutes away at Storm Mountain Lodge.

Where to stay near Chickadee Valley

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.

You can stay at nearby Storm Mountain Lodge but there are also lots of other options in Lake Louise, a 25 minute drive away. 

For good value for money stay at the Lake Louise Hostel. The Mountaineer Lodge is close to the village and offers comfortable rooms. As do the newly renovated rooms at Deer Lodge. 

For a splurge stay at either Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise or the Post Hotel & Spa.

Further winter reading

If you’re looking for more ideas on where to cross-country ski in Alberta I highly recommend the book –Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Cross-country skiing in Chickadee Valley, Kootenay National Park

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. Another amazing Canada adventure. If there is any way you could create an avalanche on Whymper Mountain that dumps snow from Calgary to southern Wisconsin without hurting anyone, I would be all for that.

  2. I love it – it looks so peaceful and relatively easy for an ultra-beginner like myself. I am looking to expand my (short) list of winter activities and this seems like a great fit for me.

    1. @Vanessa The first kilometre up and the last kilometre down might be a little challenging but there’s nothing that says you have to look graceful on the way down. It’s also very doable on snowshoes.

  3. I found your post and am considering doing the same route as you this weekend. Did you have a map, or did you just go for it? How many km was it/how long did it take?

  4. Wow, wow, WOW…. what a beauty! After reading about this valley several weeks ago, it was high on our list to check out this winter. We did it on a very cold day after deciding not to go alpine skiing and spend any time sitting on a chair lift. It was gorgeous! Past several backcountry skiers who were heading out after having made several powdery runs down the gentle slope where the valley opens up. We will definitely come back here again. Thanks for the intel.

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